Arriving to the sight of queues snaking upstairs to one of Cork’s newest venues, Triskel Christchurch seemed the perfect setting for the return of Danish songwriter and composer, Agnes Obel to Leeside, following her debutante performance with Fleet Foxes at the Marquee some months back.
In a serendipitous show of allegiance, supporting the Berlin-based singer was young Corkonian, Polly Barrett. A well-known face to many, Barrett’s evocative, simple, often innocent lyrics referenced the meanderings of love, as well as her many experiences as a busker on the city’s streets. Despite a few home crowd jitters, her vocals soared up and out over the audience, determined and defiant in their intention to deliver for the occasion.
With the audience swelled to full capacity, Agnes Obel arrived on stage to a great welcome, her thick scarf and woolen jumper an effort to ward off the evening chill. An expectant hush as her fingers danced out the first rich bars of Falling Catching on the grand piano, the first track on her internationally acclaimed 2010 debut, Philharmonics.
Obel and her accompanying cellist, Anne Müller, duly delivered over the proceeding few songs (though an early battle with the sound desk resulted in an unsettled start, both performers taking time to find their way through the dense reverb of the stone walls). Any lingering shades of tension were blown away on the sonic breeze, which swept from the stage with the fourth track, the twinkling, upbeat Just So. Settling into the performance, there could be no questioning the talent, maturity and cool, with a quiet confidence in her compositions and stage presence.
The momentum built consistently, each track complementing and supporting each other, working in tandem with the dramatic lighting effects for the evening. While tracks from Philharmonics, such as Beast, Close Watch, and the dramatic On Powdered Ground, comprised much of the setlist, two new tracks were featured, with accompaniment provided by Scottish harpist, Gillian Fleetwood.
Obel seemed to thrive on stage, and interestingly, the live set up brought a much broader, more dynamic sound to her music than I’d expected from listening to the album – the addition of loop pedals giving the sense of listening to a full orchestral symphony rather than three musicians. Set against her fragile, almost sparse lyrics and warm, hushed vocals, her rich compositions wove through the stone vespers of Christchurch, soothing minds and warming souls.
So much so, that by the time the trio finished up with a beautiful version of the Scottish folk tune, Katie Cruel, the woollen jumper and thick scarf were no longer needed; so warmed were those on stage, and in the audience, by the magic of the evening.